OFFICIALS STRIKE TENTATIVE DEAL TO SAVE KEY WEST’S SENIOR HOUSING FACILITY

Key West’s financially strapped assisted-living facility, Poinciana Gardens, got a reprieve last week, when officials from three government agencies agreed to a cost-sharing arrangement.

The arrangement must still be approved by the Monroe County commission, the Key West city commission and the Key West Housing Authority board before becoming official. 

But Key West city manager Patti McLauchlin said she was very pleased with the discussion and decision. She met last week with County Administrator Roman Gastesi and housing authority director Randy Sterling. 

“We all agreed the county will contribute $600,000 a year for three years — if the money is still needed the third year. The city of Key West will contribute $400,000 the first year, $300,000 the second and $200,000 the third year, again, if it’s needed. The housing authority will continue to manage the facility and will contribute $200,000 a year for two years,” McLauchlin told the Keys Weekly. 

“It was a great negotiation and we all walked away happy,” McLauchlin said. “Our senior citizens are a vital part of the Keys community, and we all want to do whatever is possible to keep Poinciana Gardens open for them. I’ve updated the city commissioners individually and they are thrilled with the outcome.”

Bayshore Manor

County commissioner (and former Key West mayor) Craig Cates, who initially proposed the city-county partnership for Poinciana Gardens, told the Keys Weekly he was relieved and “so happy” to hear a tentative agreement had been reached. 

Cates was first to point out months ago that the county could save more than $1.2 million a year by closing its aging Bayshore Manor assisted-living facility on Stock Island and moving its 11 residents to Poinciana Gardens, which is only three years old. In addition to the $1.2 million savings from Bayshore, the move would enable the county to use that property for office space that the county currently rents for $250,000 a year, Cates has said, calling the math a “no-brainer.”

Despite initial, informal support for Cates’ proposal about Bayshore and Poinciana Gardens, some county commissioners later balked at spending more than the city of Key West on a facility that’s located in the city. Citizen groups in the Upper Keys vocally opposed the county expenditure, claiming it wouldn’t benefit Upper Keys residents.

“I would hope our neighbors in the Upper Keys would have some sympathy and compassion for the fact that Key West and Lower Keys seniors have no other options for assisted-living without moving three or four hours from their home and loved ones,” Key West commissioner Sam Kaufman said. 

Poinciana Gardens

The discussion among McLauchlin, Gastesi and Sterling was vastly different from the one Key West city commissioners had among themselves last week, after learning that the county expected Key West to spend $600,000 a year for the next three years on Poinciana Gardens.

The city of Key West had previously agreed to the $400,000, $300,000, $200,000 contributions, and had included the $400,000 in its budget for next year, but the city had not been consulted on the county’s increased expectation of $600,000 a year for three years. 

City commissioners last week repeatedly called the county “bullies” that “have us over a barrel” by demanding more money without any discussion and without providing the city any financial information about Poinciana Gardens. In addition, city commissioners emphasized, the county has the most to gain from Poinciana Gardens — more than $1.2 million a year.

Commissioner Greg Davila pointed out that city funds are regularly used by the county on projects that benefit Upper Keys residents, but not Key West, such as the county’s purchase of Rowell’s Marina in the Upper Keys. 

The Key West city commission was to meets Tuesday, Aug. 3 and was to hear the official update from McLauchlin then, but the city has already budgeted for its first-year $400,000 contribution to Poinciana Gardens. 

The agreement still needs approval by the county commission, which meets Aug. 18 in Key West, although the agenda for that meeting has not been finalized. 

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.